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‘I Ran Away From My Boarding School’: Why Parents Must Create A Safe Space For Kids

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Good mental health and building a safe space for kids where they can bare themselves open are still frowned upon by our society, and even by our parents. I want to share a life event with you all to show the psychological impact of not giving value to a kid’s pressing complaint. I have tried to open myself up regarding the issue earlier as well.

Due to the stigma attached to mental health, I couldn’t speak up earlier. But I feel this needs to be told.

Representational image.

I was 16 years old. Having been raised in a remote village of West Bengal, I grew up like a stag in a forest. I had no reservations about anything. I enjoyed taking a bath in a big pond with my friends, returning home from school with my friends in the afternoon. Afternoons were special for me. They carried a tantalising perfume. We used to have feasts at least once every month at the back of our home. The place was surrounded with huge mango trees.

This is how I grew up. Readers might be thinking that I have derailed from my original story, but this is not the case. This was my life before I turned 15. And in due course, readers themselves would recognise the line of demarcation between my life before and after 15.

I was in Class 9 when my parents sent me to a boarding school in Malda on the advise of one of my high school teachers. My joy knew no bounds and there were certain reasons behind it. My perception of a boarding school was that I would live on my own terms. Craving for extreme independence was what inspired me to get admitted to the boarding school. I was busy building castles in the air.

The first few days at the boarding school were full of excitement and new experiences for me. I would wash my clothes, clean my dishes and do everything on my own. This was my first taste of freedom. But I fell off the sky the moment I came to realise that this is nothing but a prison cell for me where independence was not given but forcibly taken away to make students “disciplined” and “well-mannered”. I used to cry to my mother over the phone regarding my uneasiness while staying there. She used to comfort me by saying that things would fall in place once I get used to the environment of the boarding school. It was not that I did not try. I tried, but it went in vain.

Representational image.

Then, on a fine winter evening, I fled the boarding school. I had no plan of going back home. My parents’ nonchalant attitude towards me motivated me to go elsewhere and not home. I boarded the train and decided to go to Mumbai. At 3 am, I reached the Sealdah station, Kolkata. I was frustrated. I didn’t know even whether I would survive or not. I used to keep a diary with me all the time. At the railway station, I met a man in his mid-30s. From my broken Hindi, he recognised that I am a Bengali and asked me sternly, “Why are you speaking in Hindi despite being a Bengali?”

I literally went out of words. All of a sudden, to my utter surprise, he asked me, “Hostel theke paliye esechis kano (Why have you fled the hostel)?” I broke down in tears. He asked my name and about the belongings I was carrying with me. I showed him my diary. He read some of my poems, heaved a sigh and kept asking me repeatedly to go back home. He then took me to the Sealdah Railway Police Cell. During the course of his conversation with the in-charge of the police cell, I came to know that he was a senior ornithologist based in Dehradun. I was surprised to know that.

I came home. I confined myself to my room for about three months. During this period, I literally spoke to no one. No one bothered to know the reasons behind my fleeing the hostel. The headmaster of my boarding school lied to my parents about me having an affair with a girl in order to save himself from any confrontation. I still think about his false allegations. How can a teacher lie like this!

Psychologically, I suffered immensely. The suffering went to such an extent that I developed a nerve-related disease. I used to always remain under a spell of fear and anxiety. I had to get admitted to the Institute of Neurosciences in Kolkata. I was bed-ridden for almost eight months.

Parents should understand their children and create space where children can share with them what’s going on in their minds. How can a child learn to grow if they get bullied at home? Parents should understand that fear and respect are two completely different tenets.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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